New Year is for Russia what Christmas is for Europe; probably even bigger. People look forward to it for months, and even the smallest industrial towns will decorate as if they are living in a fantasy movie. Because of the historical difference in calendars, Russians celebrate Christmas in January instead of December, although most forget about it completely. However, instead of Europe’s tradition of having a Christmas tree, Russians gather around a “New Year Tree”. They’ll give each other presents and sing songs, just like we do at Christmas. They even have their own version of Santa Claus: “Ded Moroz”.
Twice, I had the pleasure of witnessing this wonderful event in Russia. Both times, I celebrated it exuberantly with a family. I watched the movie «Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!» while helping to prepare the caviar and the ‘оливье салат’, which apparently just translates to English as “Russian Salad”. This movie could be called a New Year tradition on its own. Almost every Russian watches it on New Year, every year. The movie is a brilliant work featuring (and making fun of) typical Soviet (and Russian) society. It is a great introduction for anyone interested in Russia or the Soviet Union.
Of course, afterwards, I went with a group of guys and girls my age to one of the many venues in Moscow to celebrate the arrival of the New Year with lots of alcohol and food, only to do it all over again for the “after New Year party”, with a great hangover the next day.
The second time, I celebrated it partly in the main office of a news agency in Nizhny Novgorod, which is a story all its own. Since I had a closer relationship with the family I was staying with, I could do many other interesting things that tourists usually don't get to do. For example, I went to one of the younger girls’ school performances, and I even paid a visit to a real “New Year's ball” factory. I also helped cooking delicious ‘Pelmeny’, my favourite Russian dish.
Besides the two times in Russia, I only celebrated New Year one other time abroad: in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Click here for the video.